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Linda & Richard Eyre: The beauty of teaching kids duty

Published: Tuesday, March 26 2013 5:37 p.m. MDT

Duty is a powerful word. If kids understand it, they tend to be more responsible and mature, and less selfish and self-absorbed.

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We were in Bogota, Colombia, last week speaking to a wonderful gathering of parents about the dangers of “The Entitlement Trap.”

In connection with our visit, we spent a weekend at one of the organizer’s homes high in the mountains overlooking Lago Tomina and talked in greater depth about the attitude of entitlement that afflicts so many kids worldwide. One of our new friends made an interesting observation, which had different words and fit a slightly different perspective than we had heard before.

Paraphrasing his point, he said, “It seems to me that kids today have an overdeveloped orientation to 'rights' — they think they have a right to have whatever they want, right now, without earning it or waiting for it. Instead, what kids need, and what most had a generation ago, is an orientation to 'duty' — their duty to earn their own way, to care for others, to be a contributing member of their family and of their society.”

We liked his juxtaposition of an attitude of rights and an attitude of duty. It reminded us of the use of the word duty in the Boy Scout oath: “To do my duty to God and my country.”

Duty is a powerful word. If kids understand it, they tend to be more responsible and mature, and less selfish and self-absorbed.

The problem with kids who think always in terms of their rights is that they forget, or never were taught, that rights are something people earn, and something we should never take for granted. It is true that we have “certain inalienable rights” granted by our creator, but they do not include being able to have whatever we want, even if we have not earned it, and they certainly do not include being able to do whatever we want, no matter how it affects other people.

“Entitlement attitudes” in kids, it could be said, are an exaggerated and illogical orientation to rights, which contains no comprehension of realities such as working, earning things and delayed gratification. Part of the problem is electronics and the Internet and this age of data where they can get any information or any answer they want immediately with just a few keystrokes. They are not used to waiting for or earning anything. But, if we are honest, that is not the main cause. The main cause is parents who give them too much and require too little of them in return.

The simple fact is that kids today, in most western societies, and certainly in our own culture, are the most privileged generation in history. The question is which direction that privilege takes them.

It is a little like a tree that can branch in two ways. The “privilege tree” can branch to the side of entitlement, selfishness, taking everything for granted, instant gratification and RIGHTS; or it can branch to the opposite side of gratitude, obligation, responsibility to give back, to lead and DUTY.

Most places we go for our speaking and presenting in the world these days, whether our audiences are corporate, educational or community, most parents agree that an entitlement attitude is the biggest problem they face with their kids.

They also agree that it is primarily their fault.

In our effort to give our kids everything, we must be so careful not to give unwisely — not to give material “stuff” instead of our time, the thing our kids need and want most; not to give immediately things that kids should learn to work for and wait for; and not to give kids license to do things that they are not old enough for emotionally.

More and more, good parenting in today’s world is not about how much we give our kids, but how wisely we give it and how creative we are at helping our children learn to earn. More and more, it is about giving them a sense of duty rather than a sense of rights.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."

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